Pennsylvania Gift Ban Never Happened

Pennsylvania Gift Ban Never Happened

By Leo Knepper

Pennsylvania Gift Ban Never Happened
The swamp can sure look purdy

In late 2014 and early 2015, five current and former members of the General Assembly were charged with bribery and other charges related to their acceptance of cash “gifts” from a lobbyist. Despite a flurry of legislation at the time to ban cash gifts, it never happened. The House and Senate changed their chambers’ rules to prohibit the acceptance of cash gifts from lobbyists, but the law hasn’t changed. The law hasn’t changed because banning only cash gifts would raise some very uncomfortable questions for lawmakers about the kinds of gifts they can still accept.

What kinds of gifts can they accept? Virtually anything as long as they follow the disclosure rules. In order to comply with Pennsylvania’s lax ethics laws, lawmakers are simply required to disclose gifts of more than $250 per year from any source and transportation, lodging, and hospitality worth more than $650. Over the years those gifts have included everything from Super Bowl tickets to Turkish rugs.

At CAP, we generally aren’t a fan of banning things and unnecessary regulations. However, given the sheer number of public officials from Pennsylvania who end up in prison we think that enacting a commonsense “gift ban” makes a lot of sense.

CAP member Representative Rick Saccone introduced HB 39 in early 2017 to accomplish that goal. Many attempts at banning gifts to lawmakers are impossible to enforce because they are written in a way that is overly broad and includes activities that could be genuinely related to lawmaking. Rep. Saccone’s legislation does not fall into that trap.

Despite being introduced and assigned to the House State Government Committee in January of this year, there has never been a hearing on this or any other gift ban related legislation. Citizens of the Commonwealth have been victimized by corrupt politicians of both parties for years and rightly have a low opinion of their government. We believe that passage of this legislation would certainly show that lawmakers are getting the message and are willing to take concrete actions to get their house in order.

Please take a moment to email your Representative. Ask them to become a cosponsor of HB 39. Encourage them to speak to the Chairman of the State Government Committee, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe about scheduling a hearing and a vote on the measure. It is going to take a lot to restore people’s faith in Pennsylvania state government, but this is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gift Ban Never Happened

Stop Government Doing Union Work

Stop Government Doing Union Work

By Leo Knepper

Most people don’t realize it, but the state government and localities across the commonwealth collect campaign contributions for political action committees (PACs) controlled by government unions.

In February, the Senate sent legislation to the House (SB 166 and 167) to end this practice. As we noted then:

“Over the course of the last ten years, various elected officials in Pennsylvania have gone to jail for using public systems for political gain. However, government unions have been using the public employees’ payroll system to collect funds that are spent directly on candidates and influencing elections (PACs) and funds used to engage in lobbying, voter registrations, get out the vote, and a host of other political activities.

“Why should it be legal for unions to use the public payroll system for political purposes, but illegal for former-Speaker John Perzel to use the constituent data system to help sway elections? There is no difference between these two activities; both are political, both are on the public dime, and both should be illegal.”

The good news is that the House State Government Committee sent two pieces of legislation, SB 166 and HB 1174, to the floor of the House for final passage. We would prefer government getting out of the business of collecting union dues and political contributions entirely. However, the passage of either of these bills would be a drastic improvement over the status quo.

The main difference between the two bills is that HB 1174 would still allow the collection of political contributions from the state police, corrections officers, and other “public safety” employees. SB 166 does not make a distinction between public safety and standard employees; it prohibits the collection of campaign contributions from all government employees.

Please take a moment to contact your Representative and encourage them to support both of these pieces of legislation.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Stop Government Doing Union Work

Stop Government Doing Union Work

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

By Leo Knepper

Back in July the House passed legislation that would have added work requirements to the welfare code. As we noted then:

“In our research, we found that nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania families who were required to engage in job search activities or training for the federal “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families”(TANF) program participated in ZERO hours of qualified activities (see page 17). Although the qualifications for TANF are different than for medical assistance, the similarities of the populations made it a reasonable comparison. If a greater percentage of medical assistance recipients specifically, and welfare recipients in general, were required to engage in work search activities it could have a remarkable effect reducing the number of families needing assistance and a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s finances in the medium to long term.

“In 2014, Maine required “able-bodied childless adults” (ABCAs) to work, train, or volunteer on a part-time basis to continue to qualify for food stamps. In two years the number of ABCAs receiving food stamps dropped by 90 percent. First, imagine the saving that taxpayers in Pennsylvania would reap if we instituted the same requirements. Second, imagine how that would benefit the states revenue collection. If all of those people who were currently receiving assistance that could work but weren’t, returned to the workforce it would be a long-term boon for Pennsylvania.”

Similar language to the House bill made it into the final welfare code. Although it was narrower in scope than the House legislation, Governor Wolf vetoed the changes. Medical assistance payments account for nearly 30 percent of the Pennsylvania budget. Based on what happened in other states, adding work requirements for able bodied adults is a commonsense way to lower costs and encourage beneficiaries to reenter the workforce. Unfortunately, Governor Wolf is not interested in lowering the bill for taxpayers. He only seems interested in raising taxes on hardworking Pennsylvanians.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

 

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

Wolf Vetoes Work Requirement For Adults On Welfare

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes
By Leo Knepper

Not much has changed on the budget since last week. On the plus side, Governor Wolf changed his position on using fund transfers to balance the budget. He went from saying all of the money proposed in the fund transfers (see here) was promised to other projects and there was no way it could be used to balance the budget; his current position is that $500 million is available to use to balance the budget.

On the downside, Republican leadership in both chambers of the General Assembly seem dead-set on making Pennsylvania less competitive by raising taxes on targeted industries. The first target, which now seems to be off the table, was commercial warehousing. According our sources, Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) was advocated for making lease payments on warehouse space subject to the sales tax. The fact that this tax would have made Pennsylvania non-competitive and put thousands of people out of work seems to have eliminated this proposal from consideration. The latest proposal would be to nearly double the Commonwealth’s hotel tax rate. Again, one of the chief advocates for the higher tax rate is Rep. Dave Reed.

As we have repeatedly noted, a better long-term solution would be to actually cut spending rather robbing from Peter to pay Paul. We’ll let you know about any changes as they develop.

Politicians have long used Orwellian double-speak to hide their true intentions. The latest iteration of this trend in Pennsylvania is the Governor’s, Senate’s and House Democrat’s insistence on including “recurring revenue” in any budget agreement. Recurring revenue sounds much more pleasant than what they’re really talking about: tax increases.

Roughly three months ago Republican leadership in the Senate, ceded their super-majority when fourteen Republicans voted with twelve Democrats to pass a Fiscal Code that balanced the budget on the backs of taxpayers. The Senate’s plan, supported by Governor Wolf, would raise taxes on heating bills, cell phone bills, and online purchases. As our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation noted in a recent blog post, the General Assembly has raised taxes four times in the last eight years. These previous tax hikes haven’t solved Pennsylvania’s financial problems. Instead, it has been like a death from a thousand cuts for taxpayers.

Departing from the usual routine of raising taxes, House Republicans offered alternatives to the status quo. The first plan we told you about would have reduced overhead expenses and saved tax payers $370 million. A second plan, which ultimately passed the House would have used surplus, off-budget funds to fill the gap. Unfortunately, only seven Senators sided with taxpayers and voted in favor of using funds already in state coffers.

The next step in the budget process is House and Senate leadership will establish a conference committee and try to work out their differences. The deals hashed out by conference committees rarely work out in taxpayer’s favor because it is a closed-door process. The public, and most lawmakers, usually do not have time to review the finished product. Remember the 2005 middle-of-the night pay raise? That legislation came out of a conference committee too.

Please, take a few moments and email the General Assembly. Let them know that you will be watching their actions closely and that they need to cut spending and use money already collected by the Treasury in order to balance the budget.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

 

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

GOP Leadership Wants Tax Hikes

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

By Leo Knepper

At the end of June Pennsylvania’s 2017-2018 budget became law. It was unbalanced and there wasn’t a plan in place for how to pay for it. A significant part of the problem was that the Governor and legislature did nothing to reduce spending in 2016-2017 after it became clear that the revenues they expected were not going to materialize. The Governor and the majority of the General Assembly could have reduced spending in the new budget, but they didn’t. Instead Senate Republican leadership and Democrats in that chamber passed a tax increase and want to rely of borrowing to balance the budget.

The Governor, the media, and Senate Republican leaders have been insisting that the House Republicans were being negligent in not passing the tax hike. CAP and other organizations have insisted that there were other ways of balancing the budget. As we’ve noted it is possible to cut earmarks and overhead. We can add another option to that list as well: tapping the “Shadow Budget“.

Our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation have written extensively on this subject. Now, a group of lawmakers have taken the next step and introduced a proposal to tap into reserves from the Shadow Budget to make up for the revenue shortfall. Per the Commonwealth Foundation:

“…Pennsylvania holds nearly $73 billion in surplus fund balances, including $11 billion in the Treasury’s shared pool. This includes funds for many of the state’s shadow budget programs. The funding for these and other programs are deposited into three investment pools.”

The proposal offered by House members would transfer $1.2 billion in excess reserves, from Treasury’s shared pool. This is money that taxpayers, ratepayers, and/or fee payers have already sent to the Treasury Department. Furthermore, this isn’t money that has been allocated to a specific project. Instead, this is money that is being held well in excess of the expected expenses and future revenues. In some cases, these are structural surpluses that have been accumulating for years or decades outside of the General Fund and normal budgeting process.

Taking money from the Shadow Budget’s unexpended funds won’t affect a single state employee or budgeted expenditure. However, it will save taxpayers from yet another tax increase. The question is whether the majority of Republicans in the General Assembly and the Governor will side with taxpayers or tax-and-spend special interests.

 

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

 

Shadow Budget Can Be Used To Bring Balance In Pa.

Best Budget Choice Ignored In Pennsylvania

Best Budget Choice Ignored In Pennsylvania

By Leo Knepper

Often times the news media, Gov. Wolf, and the allies of Big Government in both parties present Pennsylvania’s budget choices as raising taxes or shutting down “vital services.” Two weeks ago, we presented several corporate welfare programs and earmarks that were driving up spending. This week we wanted to let you know about legislation that would save taxpayers $370 million by targeting government overhead.

Most people are unaware that overhead, known as General Government Operations in budget parlance, will cost taxpayers roughly $3.7 billion this year. In the private sector, businesses have focused on cutting overhead for years if not decades. Our state government has not been as vigilant in cutting costs as it would have you believe. Most of the cost savings programs that have been implemented merely nibble around the edges. New legislation introduced by Rep. Frank Ryan, a CAP member, would take a bigger bite out of the problem.

HB 1691 would cut the overhead budget line items by 10 percent across the board. Opponents of the measure would present this an unreasonable cut. However, a ten percent cut would still give the Executive Branch, Attorney General’s office, and legislature over $3.4 billion to spend on overhead for the year; that is hardly a paltry sum.

Before Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly try to raise taxes, they should first look at ways to reduce costs. Please, take a moment to let your Representative know that there are options other than higher taxes to get the Commonwealth’s fiscal house in order.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Best Budget Choice Ignored In Pennsylvania

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher — Last week, Governor Wolf once again put his ideology ahead of what is best for Pennsylvania when He nominated Jerry Oleksiak to be the new Labor Secretary. Mr. Oleksiak is the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers’ union in the Commonwealth. Making matters worse, Oleksiak also took part in one of the most tax-payer abusive practices available to union officials: he was a ghost teacher.

As a ghost teacher, Oleksiak worked full time for the PSEA, but he collected a paycheck, accumulated seniority, and pension benefits from the Upper Merion School District. Although the district was reimbursed for his salary and health benefits, Oleksiak and the PSEA still rely on the generosity of taxpayers to cover his lifetime pension benefits.

Mr. Oleksiak penned an editorial questioning the fitness of President Trump’s selection for Education Secretary because of her lack of experience in the classroom. Using experience as a measuring stick, how does Oleksiak stack up?

Has he ever dealt with the unemployment system as an employer? Has he ever had to appeal a workers’ compensation assessment? We can continue this line of inquiry for some time, and the answer would continue to show a dearth of experience on the part of Mr. Oleksiak.

In our conversations with business owners and employers, no one has ever complained to us that Pennsylvania wasn’t pro-organized labor enough. According to most recent studies, Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of places to do business; our labor regulations are a significant reason why. A Labor Secretary with no experience in the private sector and a decade’s worth of experience advocating for policies hostile to the best interest of taxpayers would make the Commonwealth even less appealing to job creators.

Oleksiak’s nomination will go to the Senate where there is an opportunity to stop it. Republicans have a supermajority in the Senate, but so far they have not been willing to use it to benefit taxpayers. Here is a chance for Senators to remedy that mistake.

— By Leo Knepper

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

 

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

Low Ranked Pennsylvania Won’t Be Helped With More Taxes

Low Ranked Pennsylvania Won’t Be Helped With More Taxes

By Leo Knepper

Pennsylvania has a lot of problems. In many rankings of the states, Pennsylvania is in the bottom ten. 24/7 Wall St, a business focused website, ranked Pennsylvania 42nd on its list of Best and Worst Run States. Being that close to the bottom places the Commonwealth squarely among the worst run states in the country. As if to prove that point, the General Assembly and Governor allowed a spending plan to become law without any clear way to make up $1.5 billion in revenue.

It is starting to become clear that the Governor, Senate Republican and Democratic leadership, and House Democratic leadership want to close the gap with higher taxes. The latest plan would have instituted a gross receipts tax on natural gas. House Republicans rightly walked away from this as a solution because it would have resulted in higher heating bills for Pennsylvanians next winter, and every winter going forward. House Republican leadership is not completely on the right track in closing the budget gap. Leadership in that chamber is content to engage in borrowing against future revenues to meet the shortfall.

As we noted in our blog last week, cutting spending has received far less attention than it should have for the sake of taxpayers. One of the more ambitious exceptions to that general rule is HB 1354, which would add work requirements to the welfare code as it relates to receiving medical assistance. It would also require medical assistance recipients who make over $250,000 to make copayments and engage in other cost sharing measures. (If you’re wondering why someone who is making over $250,000 is getting medical assistance, it has to do with automatic qualification for certain medical conditions.)

In our research, we found that nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania families who were required to engage in job search activities or training for the federal “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families”(TANF) program participated in ZERO hours of qualified activities (see page 17). Although the qualifications for TANF are different than for medical assistance, the similarities of the populations made it a reasonable comparison. If a greater percentage of medical assistance recipients specifically, and welfare recipients in general, were required to engage in work search activities it could have a remarkable effect reducing the number of families needing assistance and a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s finances in the medium to long term.

In 2014, Maine required “able-bodied childless adults” (ABCAs) to work, train, or volunteer on a part-time basis to continue to qualify for food stamps. In two years the number of ABCAs receiving food stamps dropped by 90 percent. First, imagine the saving that taxpayers in Pennsylvania would reap if we instituted the same requirements. Second, imagine how that would benefit the states revenue collection. If all of those people who were currently receiving assistance that could work but weren’t, returned to the workforce it would be a long-term boon for Pennsylvania.

Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre) and other members of Senate Republican leadership have so far not publicly expressed any interest in enacting work requirements for medical assistance. If their position changes, we will let you know.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

 

Low Ranked Pennsylvania Won’t Be Helped With More Taxes

 

Low Ranked Pennsylvania Won't Be Helped With More Taxes

Budget Approaches Fail Taxpayer

Budget Approaches Fail Taxpayer

By Leo Knepper

On Monday, (July 10) Gov. Wolf allowed the state budget to become law without his signature despite the fact that the budget didn’t balance. The budget passed by the House and Senate spends more than the Treasury is likely to collect. The House and Senate shouldn’t have passed the budget without a clear plan to fund the expenditures. The Governor should have either vetoed or line-item vetoed the budget. As it stands, credit rating agencies may downgrade the Commonwealth again. A downgrade won’t solve our problems, and the two “solutions” under consideration won’t be good for taxpayers.

On one side: a Democrat governor who wants to raise taxes and leave a legacy of suffocating costs. On the other side: a Republican House and Senate looking to borrow their way out of trouble and leave a legacy of crushing debt. The solution nobody in Harrisburg wants to discuss? Spending reduction, which would leave a legacy of budget corrections that would eventually pay off for taxpayers.

There are ways that the General Assembly could cut costs. First, they could dissolve the Race Horse Development Fund. The Fund subsidizes “purses” for horse racing. In 2015, some of that money went to a billionaire from the United Arab Emirates.  Considering Pennsylvania’s financial needs, this doesn’t sound like the best use of resources. A second option, would be to reform the welfare code to add work requirements. In 2014, Maine added a work requirement for able-bodied childless adults. In two years the number of able-bodied childless adults receiving food stamps dropped by over 90 percent. This change not only saved taxpayers money, but it also added people to the tax rolls.

There are a number of other ways that the General Assembly could put taxpayers first. It’s up to “leadership” in the General Assembly to step up to plate to make that happen. And, based on their track record that doesn’t seem likely.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Budget Approaches Fail Taxpayer

Budget Approaches Fail Taxpayer  By Leo Knepper  On Monday, Governor Wolf allowed the state budget to become law without his signature despite the fact

Spending Cuts Missing In Pa. Budget

Spending Cuts Missing In Pa. Budget

By Leo Knepper

It looks like the General Assembly is in full-on “kick the can” mode on the budget. An article from the Patriot-News lays out the options the General Assembly is considering for closing the budget gap. None of them involve cutting spending.

One of the top contenders is using the tobacco settlement fund as collateral for a loan. Other options include expanded gambling and a “by the drink” tax for bars and restaurants on alcoholic drinks. Right now, the tax is somewhat hidden from patrons because it is collected at the wholesale level, i.e. per bottle paid by the establishment. The new proposal would move that to a per drink tax paid directly by the consumer. From the budget crafters perspective, they’re missing out on revenue because the price paid for a bottle of alcohol is much less than the price the establishment collects by selling by the glass, etc.

Another item under consideration would be to add a financial transaction tax on electricity transmissions. From the Patriot-News article:

“Senate Republicans are also vetting a new financial transactions tax that would be centered solely on the obscure business of buying and selling space on energy transmission lines.

“Pennsylvania plays host to this roughly $2.5 billion-plus market by virtue of our role as host to the business end of PJM energy grid. Some have drawn a parallel here to the state taxes collected by New York on Wall Street transactions.

“Those familiar with the issue say a 5 percent tax on this relatively small slice of PJM’s activities could net the state about $125 million per year, with minimal impact on the industry.”

Remember when Governor Corbett and the members of the General Assembly assured us that the tax they were raising on gasoline wouldn’t be passed onto consumers? That fallacious argument is rearing its head again on this tax. If this goes through, don’t be surprised to see your energy bill go up to recoup the cost.

Please, take a moment to contact the General Assembly. Tell them to get serious about cutting spending and stop the tax and spend shell game.

PS: CAP is trying to raise $5000 in the month of June. If you value our work, please make an investment in our organization today.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Spending Cuts Missing In Pa. Budget

Spending Cuts Missing In Pa. Budget